Read James 5:1-12
In this final chapter of James, he seems to be touching on all manner of miscellaneous subjects. From the responsibilities of Christians who are wealthy, to persevere in our faith, to the sick, and bringing back those who have strayed from the truth. He begins by addressing the rich. Jesus once said it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:25). Does this mean that wealthy people can’t know Jesus? Not at all! I know many wealthy Christians who serve God humbly, using their money to support missions and the church. But we must remember the culture of the day when reading this chapter.
New believers in the early church came from all walks of life, and some of them were rich. Most of the wealthy were landowners who had people working for them. It would appear that James is talking specifically to them. Whether or not they were believers is unclear, although James 5:9 seems to imply the wealthy were believers. What is clear are their sins, which James addresses in the first six verses. His warnings to the rich are somewhat prophetic because it was the aristocracy who, a few years after this letter was written, were mostly obliterated during the Jewish revolt from Rome.
But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment (James 5:12, NKJV).
James echoes the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in verse twelve, in regards to taking an oath (see Matthew 5:33-37). He reminds us to let our yes be yes, and our no, no, “lest you fall into judgment.” It is interesting to note that he is not talking about oaths you would give in court, this is another verse in the Bible that gets taken out of context. Here is where a word search with a Strong’s Concordance comes in handy. You can find one online at Blue Letter Bible.
A word search of the word “swear” in the verse above, makes things a little clearer as to why James suddenly began talking about oath taking. In Greek, the word for “swear” is transliterated as omnyō. It means to “affirm, promise or threaten with an oath.” Keeping this chapter in context, perhaps those who were enduring abuse from those they worked for, were making rash promises or vows to “get even.” Perhaps this is why James urged them to endure, using farmers, the prophets, and Job as examples of patience.
Many Bible translations use the words “judgment” or “condemnation” in verse twelve, but a word search shows it means something much different. The word “judgment” in Greek is transliterated as hypokrisis and means hypocrisy. This same word is used in Galatians 2:13 when Peter was with other believing Jews, and he tried to separate them from believing Gentiles at Antioch. He pretended that the motive was loyalty to the Law of Moses, whereas it was his fear of being judged by Jewish believers. Here it seems to be used in the context of vowing to do something and then not doing it.
Read James 5:13-20
The last verses in James have been distorted for the past 40 years by the NIV, who for some reason decided to change the meaning of the verse entirely by adding words not found in the original text. So, if you have ever been sick and called for the elders in your church to pray for you and anoint you with oil and you never recovered, this will probably help you understand why.
First, James offers practical advice, saying that if you are suffering, pray. If you are cheerful, sing. If you are sick, call the elders to pray over you and anoint you with oil. The NKJV says this in James 5:15:
And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
And this is what the NIV says:
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
The original Greek word for “saved” is sōzō, and it means “to keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction, to save.” A word search reveals that the word “suffering” in James 5:13 (which is translated as afflicted in the KJV) comes from the Greek kakopatheō and means “to suffer (endure) evils (hardships, troubles)” or “to be afflicted.” In James 5:14-15 the word “sick” is used twice with two different meanings. The first “sick” in verse fourteen comes from the Greek astheneō which means “to be weak, feeble, to be without strength or powerless.” It also means “to be weak in means, needy, poor or sick.” In other words, it is used when describing someone who lacks strength concerning their circumstances. The second “sick” is found in verse fifteen, and it comes from the Greek kamnō which means “to grow weary or be wearied.” When reading James 5:15 in this light, it would be more appropriate to say, “And the prayer of faith will save the weary, and the Lord will raise him up.”
Those who are seriously ill, often use this verse to go before their elders, be anointed with oil and prayed over for bodily healing. And yes, physical healing has come to some after this has been done. But for many it doesn’t and they become discouraged and lose faith and the will to go on and it shouldn't, because this isn’t a verse about healing the body, so much as it is about healing the soul.
There are two things to notice here – one; it is a group effort, no person is singled out as a “faith-healer” and two, it was about those who are weary from troubles of any kind. In other words, you don’t have to have a terminal illness to request this type of prayer from your elders. If you are finding that your faith in God is waning, if you are “soul-sick” or are too weary to carry on with life, go to your elders! Have them anoint you with oil and pray for you, for this is precisely what James is talking about in this verse.
James goes on to say, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). The word for “healed” in Greek is iaomai and means “to be made whole.” We know that with the confession of our sins, through the grace of God, we are forgiven and made whole. Suggesting this is not a passage about physical healing, but a passage about God forgiving us and making us complete in Him. Which is why James says, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
James finishes his letter by reminding his readers of the importance of our souls and reminding us that faith that works makes us whole.
We have come to the end of our study. Throughout this study we have learned the following:
I hope that you have enjoyed this “deeper” look into the Book of James. If you did not have the book you can still purchase it through my bookstore.